I attended my first traditional Indian wedding celebration last weekend when my friend Sejal got married here in San Francisco. I was spellbound from the minute we arrived at the Raas Garba on Friday evening. The Rass Garba is a casual pre-wedding celebration to honor the bride and groom where the guests spend the night dancing to traditional Rass and Garba music, eating potluck style, and enjoying each others company. Sejal's family and friends descended on the Mill Valley community center just as the sun was starting to set and the air was starting to cool off a bit after a hot day.
Dancing at the Raas Garba
As we walked toward the main building we were greeted by the fragrance of toasted spices riding the breeze through the main room and out into the courtyard. We made our way into the party and I was instantly captivated by the remarkable scene unfolding before me.
The women wore vibrant, flowing saris of every color. They had bangles of gold and gemstones stacked up their wrists, and some had intricate henna patterns on their skin. Fabric, gold, shimmer, and sparkle was everywhere you looked. The men all wore kurtas and sherwanis also with beautiful details and stitching. The eating and dancing (alcohol free) went on until midnight at which point everyone departed to prepare for the following day which would include the daytime Hindu wedding ceremony, the groom's procession (complete with white horse through downtown San Francisco), and the reception dinner later in the evening.
The wedding ceremony was beautiful and took place under an intricate canopy built inside the Federal Building downtown. A traditional Hindu wedding ceremony apparently takes about 5 hours, this one was about a hour and a half, and was kindly translated into English so more of us could understand the meaning and imagery so important to this rite of passage.
Dancing at the Raas Garba
The food throughout the weekend was wonderful; rich curries, spicy lentils, rices, crackers, breads, and fudgy sweets infused with cardamom goodness.
Unsurprisingly, I immediately felt the urge to try my hand at a couple traditional Indian dishes and came home and combed the pages of Yamuna Devi's Art of Vegetarian Cooking for inspiration. I saw a stack of sugar pie pumpkins at the grocery market a couple days back and the proceeded to pick this golden pumpkin soup recipe to try.
I followed the recipe closely - and let me tell you, the ingredient list was extensive; fresh curry leaves, peeled pumpkin, ginger, tumeric, cumin, fenugreek seeds, black mustard seeds, hing powder, and coriander just for for starters. The soup was quite easy to make over the course of an afternoon and it smelled delicious. The only problem was the texture. The instructions indicate that the soup should end up creamy, and it just wasn't. It was quite thin --flavorful, but thin. You are supposed to be able to whisk the well cooked pumpkin and dal (or yellow split peas) into a creamy smoothness with a hand whisk. This is one of those cases where I definately would have needed one of those immersion blenders.
I'm usually pretty good about being able to pick out strong recipes, but this one seemed to be a bit off (I know this book is very well respected, so I will try a few more recipes from it to see if I have better luck). In the case of this recipe, half as much water may be the easy fix.
Let me know if any of you have any favorite Indian cookbooks that you cook from regularly with success -- I'm pretty light on the Indian front. I've picked up quite a few of Madhur Jaffrey's books at the library and bookstore, but wasn't sure which one to start with (they all look great)...
In some of the early entries on this site I didn't request permission to run the recipe I was writing about from the publisher so it won't appear here. The majority of entries on 101 Cookbooks will have the recipes attached, this just happens to be one of the ones that doesn't. You can find the referral to the book it came from at the top of the post.